By Daniel Baldwin
Fresh fruit and vegetables available every Wednesday until Sept. 28
The New Hartford Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring its fifth annual farmers market at the New Hartford Recreation Center. The event, which takes place from 2-7 p.m. every Wednesday, will end Sept. 28.
This market serves as another opportunity for local artist, food vendors, businesses and, most importantly, farmers, to sell their foods and products. Twenty-five vendors are participating at this year’s market; an increase from last year, according to chamber board member and event organizer Nathalie Nerber.
Farmers markets and local farmers themselves have always been in competition with big chain grocery stores. No matter in what part of the U.S. a farmers market is taking place there is always a big supermarket nearby. Despite the tough competition, there are still a few people who shop at these farmers markets.
The number of households shopping at farmers markets, between 2012-2017 increased by 35%, according to USDA.gov. Many farmers markets had their strongest sale ever in 2020, a year where everything was shut down and COVID-19 cases were at an all-time high. According to Conversation.com, consumer interest in local foods spiked in 2020, while grocery stores were having supply chain issues.
Why would people spend more on a produce item, displayed at a farmers market, when they could get that same item for less money at a chain grocery store? Why do some eat locally grown fruits and vegetables and stay away from the produce items displayed at chain stores?
Well, people who shop at the farmers markets know where these fruits and vegetables came from. They are getting it from the farmer.
“When you shop at a farmers market, you know exactly where that food is coming from and you know that is coming from a local place,” Nerber said. “When you shop at a grocery store, the food could be coming from anywhere, so I would say it’s (local food) fresher food. You might pay a little bit more, but you’re getting fresh local food.”
Locally farm-grown fruits and vegetables are healthier than the produce items displayed at chain grocery stores, according to the event’s organizers. They have more vitamins and nutrients than the big brand non-organic products.
“The more local it is, the more health benefits they have,” said Amy Braun, local farmer and employee of The Kids Market in New Hartford. “The fresher the produce, the more nutrients are in it. Some [grocery stores] stuff is there for a long time. They lose nutrition the longer they sit. We’re able to get things that are ripe when they’re picked. If it’s shipped in, they’re picking it early, so even from the start [the store fruit is] not going to have much nutrition.”
The locally grown farmers market foods taste better and last longer than the crops that are shipped and sold at grocery stores.
Braun said locally grown produce tastes better and lasts longer at home. “So if you’re buying blueberries from us, then you can keep them in the fridge longer, whereas if you get from the store, you end up throwing them away. When it’s getting shipped in, most of the time that product is staying fresh is when it’s on the truck prior to getting to the grocery store. If you’re getting it straight from the farmer, you’re getting it when it’s picked that day or within a couple days and when you’re bringing it home and not eating it right away, it’s still going to be fresh for a while.”
Farmers market produce is also most often chemical-free. The big farms, that ship their products to grocery stores, grow large quantities of fruits and vegetables. One way farmers can get these large sums of crops, according to Fruit Growers Supply (Fruitgrowers.com), is by spraying chemical fertilizers on the fields where they grow.
Many local farmers grow small amounts of fruits and vegetables and do not use the chemical fertilizers. They find other, safer, ways to grow their crops and keep bugs away.
They go the organic route.
“My husband (Richard Hayes) uses organic fertilizer,” said Sarah Hayes, owner and farmer of West End Farm in Herkimer. “We do not use chemicals. We are not certified organic, but we do not use chemicals. We pick in small quantities, where grocery stores get huge shipments and are usually treated so they last longer. We don’t do that. A lot of farmers go with other resources, other than chemicals, to keep away pests.”
The farmers and family members of West End Farms actually use chicken, cow and pig manure as fertilizer.
Zechariah Hayes, son of Richard and Sarah Hayes, said that farm animal manure has a ton of nutrients. Using animal manure as fertilizer can enrich the soil and helps the fruits and vegetables grow. The manure also provides nutrients to the crops, according to Water.unl.edu, thus explaining why the Hayes’ products are more nutritious than the foods sold in grocery stores.
“Our pigs got slaughtered, but we still have their manure,” Zechariah Hayes said. “We still have a bunch of manure from the cow. We have chickens and we’ll take manure from them. We will use the hay that we put in their coop, because they go to the bathroom in there. It (manure) has high nutrients. We really realize how much nutrients it had when we put it out back on our fields and nowhere else (other farms) had really high plants like we did over there. We really watched it and the plants over there got massive.”
Vendors at the market say the fruits and vegetables at farmers markets are delicious, nutritious, chemical-free and better than the produce displayed in grocery stores.
The food is not the only reason why people shop at these markets. They do this to help and support the local farms and the only way shoppers can help the local farmers, financially, is by purchasing their fruits and vegetables.
“People care about their communities,” Nerber said. “They want to support people that are their neighbors and that they go to school and work with. They come down here (so that they can support local businesses and get fresh produce that is grown locally rather than far away from here.”